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Taco salad really is an ode to my childhood and that may be an oddity. I’d wager a guess that most people wouldn’t think of childhood and taco salad synonymously. During the summers, my dad would work late on the farm, my mom would be in the garden until dark, and when we all came inside, we were hungry and tired.
Mom’s fallback meal was taco salad. Depending on the time of year, we’d use lettuce from the garden, quickly make taco-seasoned ground beef, and pull out whatever toppings were in the refrigerator.
This recipe really harkens back to those childhood flavors with a few updates that make it more of a meal.
The ingredients in this taco salad
- Ground beef is always in my freezer and can easily be transformed into something flavorful. In this recipe, I use chili seasoning, cumin, and Mexican oregano to create a Tex-Mex flavor profile.
- Fire-roasted tomatoes are a secret ingredient that will always increase the flavor of a recipe. By default, canned tomatoes already have more flavor than any out-of-season tomato. But when they’re fire-roasted, the flavor is even greater!
- Red kidney beans are an homage to my mom’s use of canned chili beans. Personally, I don’t love pre-seasoned chili beans, which is what you usually find. So I add these kidney beans instead. They extend the heartiness of the meat and provide a welcome creamy texture.
- Ketchup is the base of a red dressing, which is what is poured over the salad. I use sugar-free ketchup just to control the sugar. I find that this version of ketchup tastes the same. Less sugar is always a win in my book!
- Red wine vinegar adds sweetness and more depth of flavor than other kinds of vinegar. The flavor works well with the ketchup and mellows the bright flavor of the ketchup.
- Honey is absolutely necessary to balance the acidity in the dressing. Just enough honey is added to ensure the dressing does not become sweet, simply balanced.
- Worcestershire sauce is a great way to add immense flavor to dressings. The flavor is one that you can’t quite pick out, but it really rounds out the dressing.
- Chipotle powder, onion powder, and garlic powder are the spices that make this a good dressing for a taco salad. If you want to avoid spice, you can swap out smoked paprika for the chipotle powder.
- Avocado oil (or any neutral-flavored oil) is used to provide richness and body to the dressing.
This is a great salad for so many reasons. One of the best parts is the fact that the leftovers can be used in multiple ways:
- The unused meat and bean mixture can become quesadillas, tacos, or even a wrap.
- The dressing can be used on other salads or as a sauce on top of any of the above ideas.
This recipe has brought back my love for taco salads and I can see it becoming a weekly staple again. I hope it does in your home too!
Watch how to make this classic taco salad recipe
Classic Taco Salad
For the meat
- 1 lb ground beef (I use 92% lean)
- ½ medium onion diced
- 1 tbsp chili powder
- ½ tsp cumin
- 1 tsp dried Mexican oregano
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 15-oz can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
- 1 15-oz can red kidney beans rinsed and drained
For the dressing
- 3 tbsp ketchup
- 1 ½ tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tsp honey
- 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1 tsp chipotle powder
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- ½ tsp onion powder
- ½ tsp salt
- ⅓ cup neutral oil
For the meat
- In a large skillet or saucepan, brown the beef and onion over medium heat, using a spoon or spatula to break it up into small pieces.1 lb ground beef (I use 92% lean), ½ medium onion
- Once browned, about 4-6 minutes, add the chili seasoning, oregano, cumin, and salt. Stir for 30 seconds and add the tomatoes and kidney beans. Turn the heat to a low simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until most of the liquid has reduced.1 tbsp chili powder, ½ tsp cumin, 1 tsp dried Mexican oregano, ½ tsp salt, 1 15-oz can red kidney beans, 1 15-oz can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
- Once cooked, remove from heat and set aside.
For the dressing
- In a dressing shaker or small jar, combine the ketchup, vinegar, honey, Worcestershire sauce, chipotle powder, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, and oil. Shake until combined, taste for seasoning, and set aside.3 tbsp ketchup, 1 ½ tsp Worcestershire sauce, 2 tsp honey, 2 tbsp red wine vinegar, 1 tsp chipotle powder, ½ tsp garlic powder, ½ tsp onion powder, ⅓ cup neutral oil, ½ tsp salt
For the salad
- To serve the salad, start with chopped lettuce. Top with some of the meat mixture, chips, dressing, and any garnishes.2 heads romaine lettuce, tortilla chips, avocado or guacamole, shredded cheese, salsa, hot pepper mustard